Showdown: Tumblr vs. WordPress

EDIT (1 May 2011): I have redone this comparison using current information and judgements, and with attention to many things I excluded in this comparison. While I still think this piece would be valuable reading, I’d encourage you to read it as a supplement to the 2011 Rematch of Tumblr and WordPress.

The epic showdown. Two titans of free internet content-management will meet in this arena. Only one can emerge victorious.

Two things should be made clear at the outset: (1) I was looking to make a link blog, not a typical tumblelog with multiple kinds of posts, all formatted differently; and (2) I eventually chose (self-hosted) WordPress. Yes, I just killed the drama. But this is about a comparison, and not (as I implied in the last paragraph) about winners or losers.

There were, three battles in this war. The first is the one that only matters to the proprietor: the back-end. This focuses primarily on how easy it is to create and edit entries for such a blog. Second, and what was the deciding factor for me, was archiving. That is: how easy it is to find what you want among the old stuff. The final issue is rather nebulous, but we’ll call it flexibility. That being whether each CMS can do the splits.

The Back

Tumblr’s DashboardThis is, without question, the place where WordPress loses a lot of points. And where Tumblr shines, especially if you’re looking for more than a link blog.

Tumblr’s backend is stylish, as the image at right demonstrates. I could go all the way to elegant and perhaps beautiful. Essentially you select the kind of post you’re going to be making, and then you’re taken to a specific page that’s tailored for making that kind of post. If you haven’t played around with Tumblr, it might be worth signing up just to see this.

WordPress editorWordPress, on the other hand, is a hulking CMS which can do lots of things. But it’s not terribly elegant at any of them. The way I create a post for my link blog demonstrates well. On the top the title, post text, and tags are entered. Then the link is added down at the bottom in the “custom fields” area. In which I’ve had to create a custom field called “link,” in which I put URL I want this entry to point to.

The use of custom fields — by definition separate from WordPress’s normal working — also makes it slightly hard to style entries properly, and harder still to make the feed act correctly (a problem I still haven’t fixed on my blog). I don’t need to go into detail, but suffice it say that it’s a headache.

Advantage Tumbler

The Archives

This is where WordPress, comparatively, shines. And the reason that I decided to throw my lot in with the ugly backend of WordPress, rather than the snazzy ease of Tumblr.

Tumblrs archive (see random example) look nearly as fresh and innovative as Tumblr’s backend. When I first saw one I said: “Wow. This is cool!”

And even though all those statements are true, Tumblr’s Archives are troublesome. For one, I’m not a fan of horizontal scrolling, which any reasonably old blog would have. And the only way to search such archives is with a browser’s built-in search fuction — which works, but is hardly elegant. And the ability to navigate with tags, of which I’m becoming an ever bigger fan, is completely out as well.

By contrast, WordPress is built for archives. The archives page I’ve thrown together for my nascent link blog gives you some ideas. There are tags there, as well as categories and monthly archives. Sure there’s a lot less flash than Tumblr’s page, but this has something else that Tumblr doesn’t. The ability to search. Built-in. And search plus all the ways you can view a WordPress archive means a lot to me.

Advantage WordPress

Flexibility

As I mentioned at the start, this a rather nebulous category. It encompasses most everything that I haven’t mentioned but feel the need to.

Both Tumblr and WordPress have a large array of themes. For the purposes of tumbling or linkblogging, Tumblr’s better in this. As for the novice, some seemingly-complex things have to be done to any WordPress theme to make it work at all.

Both tumblr and WordPress can exist at their own domains (though the tumblr default is X.tumblr.com, it can be easily changed). Having said that, all Tumblr backend work happens at tumblr.com.

Also, if one is reasonably skilled, it should noted that WordPress can do much more than Tumblr. But many, not even myself, are reasonably skilled.

So for the novice Tumblr is probably a wise choice (note that I’m not wise), you can’t do many of the things that WordPress allows you — seperate pages, for example — but the ease-of-use is hard to beat.

This is hard to call, so I’ll go ahead and do it the easy way:

Novice: Advantage Tumblr

Level 3 Nerd: Advantage WordPress

Conclusions

This contest is hard to call. Each CMS got 1.5 points out of three. As I suggested, I would decide this based on nerdiness. If you’re comfortable with CSS, HTML, PHP, and WordPress, I think that’s the obvious choice. If the acronyms in the last sentence confused and disoriented you, Tumblr’s probably a wiser bet.

Forced to choose an overall winner, I think I’d choose Tumblr.

The only reason I’m not currently using it is that dislike it’s archiving system. And that I like the possibility for future improvement when I finally get smart and motivated enough.

I hope I clinched the choice for you, affirmed what you were alreay thinking. Neither system’s terrible. Neither systems perfect. It’s just important to choose the best one for your needs and abilities.

30 Responses to “Showdown: Tumblr vs. WordPress”

    Fragzem said:  01/23/08

    I find that wordpress is seemingly much more professional than tumblr. That statement “log the last funny chat you had” — just made me think “teenager”.

    While wordpress’ back end is somewhat ugly and even vulgar at times, this bothers me none, as I have been using Windows Live Writer to do all my entries into wordpress, which allows me a few necessary options that wordpress web-based does not.

    -Fragzem

    Rhett said:  01/24/08

    Nice write up. I think your last sentence summed it up best. They are 2 different apps targeted at 2 different kinds of users.

    david said:  01/29/08

    I feel I must confess my surprise and delight that some of the comments I went to delete as spam — I still haven’t turned on Askimet — were real comments from real people.

    I’m glad you guys found something worthwhile in my comparison. And I also feel even more obligated to do a better job making new and interesting content for this site.

    Nice comparison. I use both. My “serious” blog is a WordPress self-hosted deal. My personal and less “serious” blog is a tumblr account. Of course, it’s not really a blog. It’s more like a content stream, which is exactly what I was looking for.

    I wanted a link blog that did more than just link to stuff. I also wanted some of the functionality of twitter but without the childish annoyances it entails. So, tumblr fit the bill.

    I have the RSS piped into a sidebar widget on my blog for my readers to get a glimpse of peripheral content, since I keep my main blog for “serious” stuff.

    Blog = readscott.com
    tumblr = hearscott.com

    I’ve had more WordPress blogs than I care to admit over the years, and even rolled my own weblog back before the term was coined, but Tumblr enables me to keep it fresh and to go from idea to post much faster than WordPress. It helps me prevent blogfade. I can take a picture w/ my cell phone, email it to my Flickr account and within an hour or so it will automagically appear on my Tumblr page, complete w/ a title and a comment. And I don’t have to mess w/ updates which are a PITA (even with an auto-update plugin). I guess I don’t get all this talk about ‘serious’ vs. not serious blogs. I put pics and video and text in my WordPress blog. I can do the same w/ Tumblr, it’s just easier. Easier doesn’t mean less serious.

    I started a Tumblr log to cover my recent trip to Mexico. Even with limited internet connectivity I managed to post 2-3 times a day. I *never* do that on my WordPress blogs. I’m considering dropping WordPress altogether!

      MarkB said:  08/09/09

      I started down the WordPress path when I was huckstering news embedding software and needed a demo platform for my formal “web consultant” site. I love to research/write, but mainly 8-5, when I’m paid to do so…my blog updates have become more of an annual expression.. Your comment is spot on re keeping fresh, and [my favorite web 2.0 catch phrase] being an organic part of regular life/work activities.

      I came here via Google search [tumblr wordpress] after experiencing tumblr during a diyplanner.com/tiddly wiki/GTD/twitter drilldown that led me to funny shoesonwrong.tumblr and into the tumblr sign up page. Cheers!

    kusogaki said:  10/23/08

    i love wordpress but i was just looking into tumblr on the whim. this page had all the answer i needed and wanted to hear! thanks :)

    I recently moved from WordPress to Tumblr, and doubt I’ll look back. I blog a lot from my Sidekick, and Tumblr is much easier to manage from my phone. Also, while I know the basics of HTML, and CSS (I can follow a tutorial for PHP but it’s over my head) I’d rather not mess with it if I don’t have to. Tumblr themes are also way easier for me to modify to suit my neds, because I only have to look at one file instead of 5 or more.

    I will agree the archive system sucks in Tumblr, and I hate that it doesn’t follow the CSS Of my theme. I am currently thinking of a solution.

      Yes, it’s frustrating to select a wonderful theme, tweak the css and even the html, and then get stuck with a butt ugly looking archive page. I’ll be working on modifying archive.css to get it to look like it matches the branding of the rest of my tumblr log (designtank.tumblr.com). The steel chrome look is SOOOOO outdated and cheesy looking at this point!

    Stephen said:  12/06/08

    great post, i’ve been trying to compare these two services for a while.

    I’ve run both types of blogs, currently I have a tumblr blog. Its simplicity and design can’t be matched. Posting is easy and fun, it creates its own little community with followers, dashboard, and reblogs. However i’ve recently hit the wall with tumblr. Once you get going and really want to expand, tumblr doesn’t allow this. I’m in the process of moving my tumblr to wordpress (a move that is not easy or fun, mainly bc of everything being on tumblrs end and no easy way to export posts). If you’re a casual blogger, tumblr is for you, if you want to customize and expand your blog, wordpress is what you need.

    Good post, simple, but effective, and came up first on WordPress vs Tumblr (good seo there, any hints?)

    Zhang said:  04/25/09

    I only ever use WordPress ( hosted service ) and Blogspot.
    And it is the time to try Tumblr….
    Thank you for the information.

    At present I write something weekly (I call it ‘Monday’) that resembles a newspaper column, using Google Blogger. But I need something more design-flexible. I use only straightfoward text and illustrations. No bells and whistles of any kind. The ability to link would be useful sometimes. I’m inclined to get WordPress. It looks so much more ‘my kind of thing’. Agreed?

      david said:  09/03/09

      Yes, I’d generally agree with that. Things have changed since I wrote this (I’ve been meaning to do a new comparison, since both have come some distance), but generally for long discursive writing like you describe I’d favor WordPress.

      It has a nice WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, spell check, the ability to schedule future posts, and a good interface for saved drafts.

      I’d also point out that design-flexibility will cost you a nominal amount with a WordPress.com blog, but with self-hosted WordPress (ie: WordPress.org) (I’m not sure which you’re thinking of) it’s “free” (disregarding hosting costs). The distinction between WordPress.org and .com can confuse people new to WordPress and is something I don’t thing I made very explicit in this post.

    Very many thanks, David. I’m encouraged! I shall use free hosting - it sounds perfect for what I do. If you care to see what I do I’m at (does this site do links, I wonder?) http://paulwigmore.co.uk. Or just Google my home page on Paul Wigmore. ‘Monday’ is linked there. All good wishes to you.

    Laura said:  09/15/09

    This has been remarkably helpful. Thanks!

    Michelle said:  10/12/09

    I’ve just started blogging and I thought I was going to use WordPress, hands-down, but…I just started my first blog on tumblr. I love the simplicity of tumblr and the dynamic aspect of it. WordPress blogs look professional, but they also look static. I feel like it’s OK to write something short on tumblr whereas WordPress makes me freeze up with anxiety. Tumblr has flow. I want to start a second blog and I am still thinking of creating it on WordPress (because it is more serious) but, I like tumblr a lot. I like that with tumblr I don’t have to pay for a web host as I would if I used W.org. I like that the tumblr templates are better than W.net’s templates. I also like that there is no image capacity limit on tumblr- I don’t have to pay for an upgrade to store my images.

    Dorothy said:  10/21/09

    Im thinking about making the switch, but reading these makes me think that I should stay put at WP. I just HATE the lame designs and wish that they made it easier to customize without knowing CSS. I dont know how to code at all, and the thing looks so stale. Theres artistry in leaving this looking a little intentionally web.1.0 (lots of my clients are a little slow to the internet/design capabilities), but I just wish it looked a little more fun, reflective of my personality.

    Any ideas/suggestions. Do I just need to invest in a decent CSS coder who can help me figure out how to use my own art as a backdrop…thats basically what I want to do. Thanks for any tips.

    Sacha said:  11/22/09

    Nice little article even though you didn’t go really into detail I think. I think tumblr are doing a great job.

    Anyways I have to agree about what Stephen said: on the (12/06/08). Me to, I need to be able to customize a blog in any way I like, I think that templates are lame and that users should get the ability whether it’s self installed or hosted to edit easily “without having to learn any programming” any aspect of their sites. This would make it way easier for users to customize their blogs the way they really like and this is a call out to (facebook, tumblr, myspace)… all of these and all web-developers.

    So my statement after all this is an appellation to all devolpers/web-designers out there: “The Blog” simply doesn’t exist yet, It still has to be developed. Just do it and get rich damn!

    […] friends often ask me “what blogging service should I use – Tumblr or WordPress.” After creating a Tumblr to post links to my posts on this blog, I can comfortably stick to […]

    […] Showdown: Tumblr vs. WordPress The epic showdown. Two titans of free internet content-management will meet in this arena. Only one can emerge victorious. (tags: wordpress tumblr cms nefa writing blogging links) […]

    Radek said:  01/26/10

    Self hosted Ruby on Rails blog system for the win. Otherwise WordPress =D (I simply don’t like the name ‘tumblr’)

    Lisa said:  02/19/10

    I am a blogging neophyte and your comment
    “If the acronyms in the last sentence confused and disoriented you, Tumblr’s probably a wiser bet.” made me laugh with joy. Tumblr is where I need to start. I do know what HTML is, not in my toolbox of capabilities. The other two, I have no idea what they mean.

    Thank you! This was very helpful.

    Gao said:  03/16/10

    I came upon some people who said that WordPress gets more visitor from google search than Tumblr? Do you think that is true? I am new to this all and I need traffic to my blog as I am hoping to make money through advertising.

    i host 5 of my blogs on Blogspot and it is really good for beginners. but if you want something with more features, nothing beats wordpress,.”

    cind said:  08/04/10

    hey! thanks so much for sharing. i’ve been posting on blogger and just thinking about having another blog. your article has been such a great help! thanks! 😀

    Nancy said:  08/14/10

    Great article and comments. Realized I don’t want/need a full blown web site like I’ve had in the past, my daughter (http://www.italofile.com/) has been using WP for several years and has been happy with it. But she also introduced/suggested Tumblr to me. I love some of the plug-in’s for WP but I just don’t have the time or patience to learn all the CSS and whatever the rest of those letters are. So you’ve convinced me that I need to work on my Tumblr site, migrate my WP art site (that just isn’t working for me) and set up yet another Tumblr to just blog about life. Thanks!

    PS — love the miniquilt plugin for WP. Anyway to include in on Tumblr?

    Thanks for this Article! I just started a blog with Tumblr and so far so goodI It was wondering if I was making the right decision by saving some time and using the simple Tumblr Interface. It seems to be working perfectly as I am setting everything up. I checked out WordPress and its way more Official, but has a greater Learning Curve. Great Article Thanks!

    […] My first article on the merits of Tumblr and WordPress was written for the rather specific things that I desired in a link-blogging engine. (The linkblog I made is called Link Banana, if you’re interested.) I think what I wrote does cover that well, but in the intervening years that post experienced some unexpectedly strong Google mojo and still sees a respectable volume of traffic from people looking for a basic comparison of the two platforms. That piece wasn’t very good for that purpose, and the battle has changed a fair amount in the intervening years, so to better help people wondering how to start a blog I’ve redone the comparison with a more universal mindset. […]

    Showdown?

    That’s like a showdown between Email and Twitter

    If I’m setting up a site in 2011 it’ll be a WordPress parent site with a Tumblr child site.

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